BELEN—U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) began her town hall meeting in Belen last week by telling residents New Mexicans have a lot to teach people working in Washington, D.C.

“I know I’ve learned more about the issues because I listen to the people who I disagree with,” Torres Small said. “We can find better solutions together.”

The first-term congresswoman said she’s been busy in the nation’s capital, and while party politics is still prevalent in Washington, saying two pieces of recently-approved bipartisan legislation regarding border security and the Equal Rights Amendment passed in the House of Representatives.

Health care; prescription drug costs

Questioned about what her priorities are this year, Torres Small one of them is the Rural MOMS (Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services) Act, which would provide funding to establish rural obstetric networks for improving outcomes in birth and maternal morbidity. The bill also adds maternal-health services as part of the telehealth network and telehealth resource-centers grant programs.

“This legislation supports health care close to home so expecting women will have good care, and our next generation has a strong start,” Torres Small said. “We want to make sure they have support in rural communities, both prenatal and postnatal care.”

Another question posed to the congresswoman asked what is being done about the rising cost of prescription drugs. Torres Small said everyone is paying too much for them, and that’s why she voted for legislation to allow for Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

“Other countries negotiate to get lower prescription prices, and the VA is allowed to negotiate,” she said. “But our insurance for our seniors aren’t allowed to negotiate. This would have an impact on everyone … it’s estimated to save half a trillion dollars if we could do this.”

Torres Small said the bill was approved by the House last year, but has been told the Senate “isn’t going to take it up … they’re not interested in it.”

Veteran health care and benefits

She also hopes legislation to address more health care options for veterans will be adopting.

Torres Small has heard numerous stories of veterans living in rural parts of New Mexico having a hard time finding health care, or having to travel long distances to a Veterans Hospital.

“A lot of our veterans have to travel hours to go to Albuquerque or somewhere else because there’s nothing close,” she said. “No one is available … doctors won’t take these patients because the reimbursement rates are too low.

“How are we going to fix it?” she asked. “We’re trying to take the time to figure out how to do it right. Everyone has stacked legislation … but it’s not serving everyone because it’s too complicated.”

The Democrat said she wants to make sure the MISSION Act, which gives veterans greater access to health care in VA facilities, is available for all veterans. Currently, this program is only available to eligible veterans injured in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The VA is currently not accepting applications for veterans of other eras.

She also wants to improve TAP (Transition Assistance Program) which provides information, resources and tools to service members and their loved ones to help prepare for the move from military to civilian life.

“One of the biggest heartbreaks is when a veteran gets sick and are fighting for benefits,” she said. “A lot of times, it’s often too late, and that’s a failure.”

Border security

Torres Small said she wants “common-sense solutions” for the border, such as 100 percent screening at ports of entry. She hopes scanners that can see in vehicles can be utilized at all ports. Torres Small said only 15 percent of trucks coming into the country are scanned, and only 1 percent of passenger vehicles.

“We need to invest in the right technology there,” she said. “We want to make sure we can have custom offers keep lanes open while searching all vehicles rather than search randomly.”

Economic development

When asked about what she and/or Congress is doing to bring more high tech jobs to New Mexico, Torres Small said it takes “the right mix of things” to attract these types of companies — education, training, infrastructure and quality broadband.

The congresswoman said she is coordinating with local communities and figuring out what their plans are and supporting initiatives.

“It happens best when you know what makes your community unique,” she said.

She pointed to examples in the Hub City, such as the interstate and the local airport.

Oil, gas and fracking

The next question posed to Torres Small was how “we” should proceed in terms of profits from oil, gas and fracking, and the impact it has in the state.

She said we need to look at the science of climate change from both sides of the debate, and look at what scientists say about how to fix it.

“We have to expand renewable energy and its transmission, but it’s also true that we have to continue to produce oil and gas for some time,” she said. “I think we should work with the industry to find the most responsible ways to produce … and make sure that production is safe.”

Torres Small said she opposes legislation to ban fracking, saying she wants to make sure it’s done responsibly.

“We need to work to figure out what we can do with the produced water,” she said. “We need industry buy-in, and I think we need rigourous science.”

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.